A St. George’s Day Raid D.S.M. group of four awarded to Deck Hand F. E. Bowles, Royal Naval Reserve, Motor Launch ‘532’
Distinguished Service Medal, G.V.R. (SD.3938, Dk.Hd. R.N.R., M.L.532, Zeebrugge-Ostend 22-3 Apl. 1918); 1914-15 Star (Ck., M.F.A.); British War and Victory Medals (D.H., R.N.R.) good very fine (4)
D.S.M. London Gazette 23 July, 1918, ‘for services during the operations against Zeebrugge and Ostend on the night of the 22nd-23rd April, 1918’.
At the outbreak of war Frank Elish Bowles was working as a cook on the Kaiser’s Schooner Meteor. He was given a pass back home but had to forego his back wages of some sixty pounds. Upon his return he joined the Merchant Fleet Auxiliary and was assigned as a cook to the Yacht Greta in September1914. Bowles, who was a part owner of a Tollesbury fishing smack, eventually transferred to the Royal Naval Reserve and joined Motor Launch 532 as a Deck Hand.
ML 532 (Cdr. I. H. Benn, D.S.O.) was assigned the task of providing covering smoke for the blockships Brilliant and Sirius at Ostend on 22/23 April, 1918. During the Raid the blockships approached the harbour from an incorrect heading. By this time the German harbour defences had started firing heavily at the British ships. While speeding ahead of the blockships laying smoke, Benn noticed sand bars ahead and suddenly noticed that they were to the East of the harbour entrance. He turned his craft at full speed in an attempt to warn Brilliant, but before he could do so Brilliant struck a sandbank and sheered across the canal. At virtually the same moment ML 532 was struck by a German shell, which carried the bow away from keel to deck, including the anchor, winch and chain. The entire crew was knocked down by the blast, and by the time they picked themselves up they saw that Sirius was on fire and also aground close to Brilliant.
ML 532 was in a bad way, adrift in its own smoke. Both the vessel’s engines had been shifted on their beds by the force of the blast, breaking the exhaust pipes and badly gassing both engineers. Benn ordered the engines stopped but received no response. His number two, Lieut. M. Kirkwood, went below and stopped the engines. He reported back in a dazed state and informed Benn that both engineers were unconcious on the floor. Frank Bowles, the Motor Launch’s cook, immediately went below and carried the engineers up to the deck where they recovered after an hour or two.
ML 532 eventually broke down completely and was taken in tow by ML 276 (Lt.-Cdr. R. Bourke) whose vessel was already severely overloaded with the crew rescued from the Sirius, many of whom were badly wounded. In due course the engineers managed to patch up an exhaust pipe and got one engine started, so Benn took off slowly, arriving at Dunkirk about mid-day on the 23rd.
For their outstanding performance in the Raid, Commander Benn was specially promoted, Lieutenant Kirkwood received the D.S.C., and Bowles and another rating the D.S.M.